‘Great relationship’ with Duterte, says Trump
MANILA: Donald Trump declared on Monday he had a “great relationship” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-proclaimed killer who is waging a drugs war that rights groups say involves mass murder, as the leaders joked with each other in Manila.
Leaders of Asian nations meeting in Manila skirted around the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims triggered by Myanmar’s military crackdown, disappointing human rights groups who were hoping for a tough stand on the humanitarian crisis.
A draft of the statement to be issued after a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders made no mention of the plight of Rohingya from military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing. One paragraph mentioned fleetingly the importance of humanitarian relief for “affected communities” in Rakhine state.
The statement was drawn up by the Philippines, current chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which includes Myanmar.
Allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s US presidential elections have dogged the second half of Trump’s 12-day trip, which has taken him from Japan to South Korea, China and Vietnam.
Rights groups had called on Trump to end his Asian journey with a strong statement against Duterte’s drugs war, which has seen police and suspected vigilantes kill thousands of people.
But in a series of encounters over Sunday and Monday, Trump and Duterte appeared to enjoy each others’ company, leading to warm praise from the US president during official talks at lunchtime.
“We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful,” Trump told Duterte in brief opening remarks at their meeting. Trump praised Duterte for his organisation of the summits, saying he handled them “beautifully”. “I’ve really enjoyed being here,” he said. As the reporters were being escorted out of the room, one asked if Trump would raise the issue of human rights, to which Duterte jokingly called the media “spies”. Both laughed but neither answered.
Duterte’s spokesman later said repeatedly that Trump did not bring up any human rights concerns in the meeting, which lasted about 40 minutes.
He said the US leader nodded as he listened to Duterte speaking about his drugs war.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with US President Donald Trump during the 31st Asean Summit in Manila on Monday.